From reviving the old railway line to driverless, on-demand van rides, five experts pitched their transport ideas for Malta during a conference.

Rapid buses, trams, driverless vehicles and bicycle superhighways are among the ideas aimed at re-imagining public spaces and transforming local mobility.

They were put forward during a conference on the future of Maltese transport last week.

Last July, the European Commission flagged Malta’s growing transport problem, saying the congestion, noise and air pollution from traffic are costing Malta some €400 million every year.

The report also found that Malta’s “inefficient road network and an established preference for private transport” have led to congestion, pollution and increased greenhouse emissions.

Last October, the government announced a proposal for a three-line underground metro system with 25 stations around Malta that would carry a €6.2 billion price tag.

That announcement was followed by a public consultation period. The government has not spoken about the idea after that initial announcement. 

During an event organised by the EU-cofunded EIT Urban Mobility hub Malta and Dawra Madwarna, two local initiatives focused on inspiring positive change within urban areas, participants looked at potential alternatives suitable for Malta.

The event was held on Friday and saw five experts pitch what they believe to be the best mass transportation solution for the island. The pitches were followed by a panel of experts discussing the ideas and fieldings questions.

1. Hybrid mass rapid transit

Perit Malcolm Cachia said mass transit could be a catalyst to transform our public spaces and therefore quality of life.

Basing his pitch on his own four-year-old dissertation, Cachia said that the network lines reaching Buġibba, Birżebbuġa, Żurrieq and Rabat in their periphery would leave 95 per cent of the Maltese population within a 10-minute walk to a stop.

The lines would be rail-based and include street level, underground and overground sections, intersecting at different points within the north and south harbour areas.

2. Bus rapid transit

Deborah Pizzuto, a geographer employed by Malta Public Transport, said a bus rapid transit system (BRT) would be cost-effective and could be quickly implemented.

Several factors distinguish BRT from other bus systems, including dedicated infrastructure, high-frequency, off-board fare collection, and faster speeds, she said.

Currently, buses are part of other motor vehicle traffic meaning, that the system is severely affected by congestion. BRT would change that, she said.

This system would be especially useful in transport corridors where passenger demand is highest.

In Sliema, 900 passengers use the bus every hour, in St Paul’s Bay 1,000 people alight hourly, and Fgura sees 1,800 bus passengers hourly, Pizzuto said.

Pizzuto described BRT as the most realistic solution given the current demand.

3. Green line

Architect and urban designer Steve Montebello used the past to envision the future.

“Streets in past were animated with children playing in the streets,” he said.

His pitch, “The Green Line”, looks at the old railway line between Mtarfa and Valletta connecting eight town centres.

Montebello wants to bring life back into those densely populated towns by reducing the need for cars in those areas.

Montebello is proposing a micro-mobility super-highway alongside a tram or bus rapid transit system following the old railway route.

4. Alternative grid

Perit Daniel Scerri envisions a secondary segregated infrastructure network with the idea of providing “a safe and efficient alternative to an important proportion of the existing road users”.

Cyclists, e-scooter users and pedestrians would be able to use the alternative grid, which would include existing country lanes and require building some new infrastructure like pedestrian bridges.

The proposal prioritises safety, accessibility, less traffic, cost efficiency and enjoyment, he said.

The independent grid would only connect with the main network at certain points and would aim to create a flat route, Scerri said.

The system would be cost-efficient because it requires minimal interventions.

A flagship route connecting Swieqi, Sliema and the University of Malta, has already been planned and would be the first phase of the plan.

5. On-demand transport

With a background in IT, Godfrey Vella proposes to capitalise on state-of-the-art technology to bring about a modal shift.

Vella is critical of a fixed schedule service like a bus or metro system, because of the increased travel time this brings about.

Instead, Vella pitched a fleet of 2,000, 20-seater vans of preferably unmanned vehicles, providing an on-demand service.

The “cyber minivans” would be fitted with high-speed 5g technology and pick up and drop off passengers who request a ride through their phones.

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